A Dancer Behind the Scenes

A Dancer Behind the Scenes

By: Samantha Presley | Contemporary Arts Student
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As an emerging dance artist currently studying contemporary dance at SFU, I was thrilled when I learned that I had secured the role as an intern with a local and large-scale dance company, Ballet BC. However, I was a bit disheartened that, being a production based internship, I would not be dancing with the company at all. I readied myself to get comfortable behind the scenes for the first time ever and prepared to look at operations in the arts from a new perspective. This post examines the value that this experience had in terms of my career direction and how it sparked my interest in administration, occupational, and production roles within the arts.

Table 1Ballet BC is an internationally acclaimed, creation based, and collaborative company that is firmly rooted in the excellence that is contemporary ballet. They seek to make a valuable contribution to dance in Canada through production and education. Because this is a non-for profit company, they rely heavily on the support of individuals, foundations, businesses, and public funders donations to make their work possible. The structure of the company is similar to most non-for profits but has unique characteristics because the company produces large-scale dance works. The above table displays the authority of roles and the overall structure of the organization. 

I was involved in a number of different activities while working with Ballet BC. They can be broken down into tasks that prepared for the time in the theatre (preparation), and tasks that were carried out during the time in the theatre (execution). Preparation tasks included: attending production meetings, editing the in theatre schedule, staffing production personnel from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) accordingly, creating to do lists for my supervisor, creating Ballet BC’s new hospitality package, watching rehearsals to memorize the pieces and get familiar with the dancers, and preparing spike tape boards. Execution tasks included: placing spike tape (glow tape) on the stage, relaying information to personnel throughout the theatre, assigning dressing rooms, escorting the choir and ensuring their needs were met, running errands, light walking for lighting design, before show speech, cuing dancers, headset communication during the show, and light post-show cleanup.

These tasks all enriched my understanding of the integral relationship between labor, schedule, and budget in the workplace as well as the importance of clear and honest communication within and between departments. I am walking away from this experience with a huge understanding and appreciation for all arts administration positions. To my surprise, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and fulfillment being a part of this team, despite not being on stage. I can see now that even if it isn’t feasible for me to dance forever, my path in an arts career will not be over.

This experienced helped me meet all of my learning objectives. I was interested in understanding how an organization supports and artist and learned a lot in this regard. For example, I read the dancers contract, which demonstrated the importance of fair labor in this industry. I also learned that sometimes an organization must say no to an artist, in order to fully support them. This is because the organization has to be realistic about resources, time, and labor. So, if a project isn’t feasible, they will problem solve and help to realize that project in a more viable way. Thus, the organization acts as “the voice of reason” at times in order to stay in equilibrium with the creative method. Another learning objective for me throughout my internship was to find out what administrative positions there are in the arts that could appeal to me. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with most of Ballet BC’s administration team and constantly received more insight into what their work entailed. The position as company manager really stuck out to me and sparked my interest since they get to have such a close relationship with the dancers and carry so much responsibility.

I did, however, have some struggles during this process and each of them gave me vital insight into the professional world of the performing arts industry. First of all, it was difficult to have such a jam packed schedule leading up to show week. Also, managing the importance of events in my daily life was a struggle. For example, I grappled with giving up my regular out of school job to come to the theatre. In being given the task of creating the hospitality package during one of my last and most busiest weeks with Ballet BC, I learned that projects can be assigned without much notice in the professional world. Time-management and adaptation skills quickly became my friend in this instance.

Overall, I am proud of my accomplishments with Ballet BC and I had a lot of positive feedback from the dancers and the production manager in terms of how well I supported them during our time together in the theatre. I feel that I went above and beyond to ensure that I was being as helpful as possible and that I had a positive interaction with all employees. A lot of my success in this experience most likely stems from asking questions, and articulating myself clearly. Without doing the preceding, an intern in my position might often be left feeling unproductive, or unclear of expectations.

When I think about how my previous academic studies have supported my work experience, I feel that I have gained something here beyond what I could have learned in most of the courses I’ve taken at SFU. The dance program at SFU focuses a lot on the creative side of dance; how to create effective work, how to enhance the creative process, how to be more open minded to art, how to work across disciplines, how to condition the body and mind, etc. However, the only insight into the logistics of the occupational and business sides of this industry that I have had thus far at SFU is from one course (Creative Entrepreneurship). It is for this reason that I am glad I had this opportunity with Ballet BC, in order to practice professional skills and gain critical insight into the occupational and business sides of this industry in an actual working environment.

Despite some of the challenges throughout this experience, I am thankful for every moment. Working with an organization as established as Ballet BC has put me much further ahead than before. I not only left with a new professional reference, but with new professional experiences and knowledge that I can apply in many different contexts. I am fortunate to have connected with so many of Ballet BC’s team members and will be in touch with them in the future. Specifically, I am in touch with one of the dancers who will potentially contact me to dance in their personal choreographic project, with Ballet BC’s Rehearsal Director, Sylvain Senez, who has invited me to attend class with the company, and with the Company Manager, Melissa Tsang, who is willing to advise me further on my career path. I would like to add that also, as the assistant stage manager of the show, I got the best seat in the house three nights in a row. And it really doesn’t get much better than that. 

Image Credit: Joseph Presley


Beyond the Article

  • Check out Ballet BC's website for more information!
  • Check out Alexandra and Lauren's blog posts on their internships in Contemporary Arts. 
Posted on March 11, 2016